Learning to Live Through Loss
By Wendy Keller
One of the most important things we can do for ourselves when we’re going through a difficult crisis is seek out help from others who have survived “bad things” in their lives. As we mature, we start to notice that pretty much every human being eventually gets their turn at suffering.
People always try to quantify things – you’ve got more of that than I do, I’m suffering more than you are, and so on. The truth is, when it comes to matters of the heart, no one can begin to weigh another person’s pain or pleasure. For instance, we all know that if we live long enough, we will eventually bury our parents. But the nature of our relationship with the parent determines so much about how much pain we feel. And the parent’s experience of the end of their life also influences how we feel about their death. Did they suffer? Was it sudden? Was it premature and they died at the peak of their life – or ours?
Similar cases can be made for all types of loss and suffering. I recall when I gleefully got divorced, I felt like I’d been let out of jail! But people who didn’t know how grateful I was for my escape said, “Oh, I’m so sorry for you!”
We cannot know another’s true feelings about their pain and loss, but it is crucial that we come to understand our own. To help more people get in touch with, process and get through the suffering they are experiencing, I wrote a popular ebook called “How To Stop Hurting & Start Living”. It’s based on the best of what I’ve learned, having had a life full of losses, tragedies and traumas. My pain made me carefully study what it takes to survive, to recover, to even thrive again. I researched how people throughout history got through tough times. Did you know Benjamin Franklin, the wealthy American statesman, once had only enough money in his pocket for a bread roll? Do you remember how lost Helen Keller felt before Anne Sullivan came to teach her to communicate with the world again? How people in countries devastated by war, disease, famine and natural disaster come back and recover?
Sure, it takes a while. Yeah, it takes work. But I can promise you this: you have more strength than you might think to you do. You may not care right now. You may not want strength – you just want things to go back to how they were Before The Bad Thing Happened. Believe me, I get that. Broken into little bits of bone in ICU in a hospital bed, knowing both my children were in the morgue below was REALLY tough. I didn’t care if I recovered, if I lived or died. But inch by painful inch, I built a new life without them.
Five Things I Know For Sure About Recovery:
- Let yourself go through it – there is no way to skip the suffering. There ARE ways to cope with it, manage it, deal with it so it doesn’t drive every waking moment of your life, but those are skills you must learn.
- Let others help you. There are plenty of people around you at this very second who would love to give you a hand if you can be humble enough to ask for it, grateful enough when it is given, and strong enough to know that when it comes time, you will also be part of the chain that pays it forward.
- Learn how others survived their own traumas, losses and suffering. Read books and ebooks like mine. Read biographies of great people from history – every one of them faced suffering and defeat to become who they did.
- Know that you CAN get through this. Not for any airy-fairy reason, but because others have survived similar situations and made it through, and if even one other person did, you can too. I know it hurts. I know it sucks. But you have the power. Get help, get in control, take action. You can only save yourself – and that starts with the decision to survive and thrive again.
- Pay it forward. The day will come when you are surprised to discover YOU are the strong one and someone else needs a hug, a word of comfort or encouragement, a few bucks, a hot meal or a listening ear. Smile to yourself when this happens, then do the task set before you. That’s when you’ll know that you’ve made it to the other side. You’re paying back all those who helped you, as someday will the person you are helping now. On and on through millennia of human existence, this is how it goes. We all suffer, we all support, we all move forward as a group.
As I write this, it is Mother’s Day and it makes me nostalgic for the children I’ve lost. But it also forces me to take stock of how far I’ve come in life. I promise you, the day will come when you will look back on The Bad Thing That Happened and see it as a pivot point in your entire life, the chance you could grab that will take you where you will be then.
Where will that place be? What happens NEXT is up to you.
Recommended book on coping with grief:
This book acts as a touchstone of sanity through difficult times. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbyecovers such difficult topics as the first few weeks, suicide, death of a child, children and grief, funerals and rituals, physical effects, homicide and depression. New material covers the unique circumstances of loss, men and women’s grieving styles, religion and faith, myths and misunderstandings, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye reflects the shifting face of grief.
These pages have offered solace to over eighty thousand people, ranging from seniors to teenagers and from the newly bereaved to those who lost a loved one years ago. Individuals engulfed by the immediate aftermath will find a special chapter covering the first few weeks.